Meeting Street Schools award over 100 teachers bonuses in first year of incentive program

June 25, 2021 - MSS In The News

By Libby Stanford

The Post and Courier, JUL 16, 2021

Meeting Street Schools, the Charleston-based nonprofit organization that runs public-private elementary schools throughout the state, awarded over 100 teachers bonuses for the 2020-21 school year.

The bonuses, which were given based on student performance, averaged around $5,000 per teacher with some receiving as much as $10,000.

They included teachers at all four of the nonprofit’s schools: Meeting Street Academy in Charleston, Meeting Street Academy in Spartanburg, Meeting Street Elementary School @ Brentwood and Meeting Street Elementary School @ Burns, both in North Charleston.

In the past two years, Meeting Street Schools has developed a system to assess student performance, said CEO Christopher Ruszkowski. The 2020-21 school year marked the first in the nonprofit’s initiative to provide annual bonuses based on student performance.

The nonprofit’s schools have a unique funding model. Meeting Street Academy in Charleston is completely privately funded while the public-private elementary schools in North Charleston and Spartanburg are funded through a mix of federal per-pupil dollars and private donations.

Meeting Street isn’t the first school system in the area to provide bonuses — Charleston County School District, Berkeley County School District and Dorchester District 2 all distributed one-time $1,000 bonuses over the school year.

Meeting Street is the first to create an incentive program based on student performance.

In the first year of bonuses, the money came from philanthropic dollars raised by the school system, Ruszkowski said. Going forward, Meeting Street plans to include the bonuses into its base budget, which could mean public dollars will go toward the bonuses at the public-private schools.

Although Meeting Street has the help of private donors, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for public school districts to implement a bonus system like the one created by Meeting Street.

Ruszkowski pointed to Texas, where a 2019 law established a Teacher Incentive Allotment that allows up to $32,000 per teacher per year based on performance.

“It is possible, and it is happening around the country, that schools and districts are thinking about how to do this innovative work with public dollars as well,” Ruszkowski said.

Meeting Street’s formula for determining how much each teacher received looked at student reading and math scores to assess growth over the school year. Any teacher whose students made over one year of growth received a bonus. Over 100 of the nonprofit’s nearly 200 educators received a bonus over the school year.

Teachers with students who achieved a year and a half to two years of growth received the most money, Ruszkowski said. About a dozen teachers achieved that level of bonuses.

The bonuses were especially important after the teachers spent a year and a half adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We teach every day knowing there will be an end of year assessment to show student growth and achievement, but to have a financial incentive to recognize the growth makes the work all year feel valued and appreciated, which I know is not the same in other school systems,” Kaitlin Payton, a fifth grade teacher at Meeting Street Elementary @ Burns, said in a news release.

Ruszkowski said he hopes the money will help with teacher retention and morale as South Carolina faces a growing teacher shortage crisis.

“There’s never been a more important time to recognize and reward outstanding teaching that is having a dramatic effect on students’ academic results and lives,” Ruszkowski said.

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